Advice for a new EMS at a small, office-based company



Hello Everybody,

As I mentioned in my first post on the forum (one of the pinned topics regarding lack of significant aspects), I work for a small - <15 staff – office-based company. The company has been trying to implement an Environmental Management System to ISO14001 standard for a number of years, but getting over that final hurdle has never quite happened; probably due to the size of the company and the limited environmental impact we have, it has always been pushed back by other work and we've never managed to get it implemented. I have now been put in charge of trying to get the EMS in place.

This is proving to be a bit of a challenge! My impression is that the ISO14001 standard is aimed at production sites/factories etc. and I am finding it difficult to try and reconcile a company of our size and impact with all of the requirements of the Standard. I want to keep things simple, because this has to be maintained by myself and one other member of staff in addition to our 'day jobs'. However, each time I go through the Standard to check we've got the things we need, there seems to be another procedure or document that needs to be written, even if it seems out of proportion with the scale and nature of what we do.

So, I'm hoping for some general advice, tips or comments from people who have perhaps been in the same position or operate an EMS at a small, office only company. How do you manage to meet all of the requirements of the Standard in a way that is proportionate to the nature of your company? Do auditors take size into account? Any advice or tips in general?

A couple of points in particular:

* There are maybe 5 broad objectives we have defined at this stage but not all of these come from significant aspects (depending on how they're defined, we have few/no significant aspects). The only aspect that it really seems practical for us to monitor is electricity usage, which is potentially a significant aspect. Other things don't seem 'practicable' to measure i.e. waste. We have no means of weighing our waste and it goes into a communal bin for the whole building so we won't get reports back from the collection company. So how could be meet the requirement to monitor and measure that significant aspect in a quantitative way? Are we ok to have so few quantifiable objectives?

* – In terms of legislation, we need to comply with things like the safe removal of hazardous/electrical waste. For us, this is primarily things like lightbulbs or old computers. How might we have a procedure for ensuring we're complying with the legislation for those things? Could it be something as simple as making people aware of what needs to be done with particular types of waste? That doesn't seem to really 'evaluate' compliance though.

On the one hand, I am fully on board with trying to improve our environmental performance and want to use the EMS as a tool to do that. On the other hand, I feel slightly daunted by everything that ISO14001 asks for and the prospect of two people not being able to successfully maintain all of the documents/measurements/monitoring etc. that is required. How can I strike a balance between keeping things simple enough that the EMS works so we can make improvements and getting everything we need in place for ISO14001?

Any advice/suggestions happily received!

As an aside, I'm very pleased that I cam across this website - I think it is going to be an excellent resource!
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Jen Kirley

Quality and Auditing Expert
Good day Battenburg,

EMS can be applied to an office, you are correct that it is much simpler than in a manufacturing or chemical plant.

There are a series of related threads linked below - can you see them? One is about a situation similar to yours.

Offices would have energy use as an aspect, it would probably be your largest. Others to consider are water usage if you are not leasing, chemicals that may be used for landscaping if you are not leasing, cleaning chemicals, disposal of batteries, spent fluorescent light bulbs and e-waste, other potentially hazardous waste such as printer cartridges, solid waste such as paper and chemicals used for pest control if you do that.

Some of these would be under your employees' control, and some might be controlled by contractors - persons working on your behalf, including janitors and landscaping/lawn care.

Your procedure for controlling e-waste could be an organized way of collecting and storing, then transport to your city or town's transfer station if they have one, or via some other arrangement. You'd have to store it properly in the meantime.

If chemicals are used via secondary containers, the containers would be expected to identify their contents. SDS sheets, which now include spill cleanup, would be expected for the chemicals you have except for household chemicals like dish soap, etc.

So it seems there are aspects besides electricity. There are even a few Legal & Other things to consider. I would not expect any reporting because you probably don't need any permits, so evaluation of compliance can be a straightforward affair but would be one of the few places where I'd recommend a "canned" checklist.

I hope this helps!

John Broomfield

Super Moderator

You may find this example of an environmental impact assessment useful.

It is for office work:!!MSW-E

Note that when assessing your organization's environmental impact that you are not determining significance in terms of other industries, but you are determining which your activities, processes, services, products and by-products are significant (within the scope of your EMS) and can be made less adverse or more beneficial to the environment.

Reducing the size of your carbon footprint reduces adverse impact. But you may also discover an aspect with significant beneficial impact such as car pooling.

Hope you have the management commitment and the support and understanding of your <15 team.
Significant aspects that you see are not to be compared to the significant aspects at large to your community or city or country. What you determine as aspects and then Pareto the significance is all for your company to help apply the EMS.
So when you are doing the aspect <> Impact analysis based on your scaling or scoring, you will certainly come up with the top few making them significant for your EMS management. Move from there on.
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